Food battles do not stop at the borders of Africa and Asia. They extend into Europe and impact projections of national heritage and commerce. In March 2017, Virgin Atlantic felt obliged to drop classification of a salad on its in-flight menu as Palestinian, even though it was based on a Palestinian recipe, after pro-Israel passengers protested and threatened to boycott the airline. The airline opted for the more generic name, Couscous Salad (James M. Dorsey, 2018).
“Our salad is made using a mix of maftoul (traditional Palestinian couscous) and couscous, which is complemented by tomatoes and cucumber which really helps lift the salad from a visual perspective and is seasoned with a parsley, mint and lemon vinaigrette. However, we always want to do the right thing for our customers and as a result of feedback, we have renamed this menu item from our food offering at the end of last year and we’re extremely sorry for any offense caused,” said a spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic.
Hummus comes from the Arabic word meaning “chickpeas,” and the full name of the prepared spread in Arabic is “ḥummuṣ bi ṭaḥīna” which means “chickpeas with tahin.” Hummus is a dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. Hummus could be a food but it also symbolize all the tension in the Middle East.
Lebanon once tried to register the word “hummus” with the European Union, with a protective designation of origin — in the same way Champagne is registered by France, Parmigiano Reggiano by the Italians, and the Greeks lay claim to feta cheese. Lebanon minister of tourism, Abboud, asked the EU to ban any country other than Lebanon from calling their product hummus. The Lebanese Industrialists Association called its campaign “Hands off Our Dishes.” But in the end, the EU did not allow Lebanon to register hummus as its own, saying it is the food of an entire region.
Israel and Lebanon fight hummus wars and join Palestine in battles over the origins of multiple dishes. Turks, Arabs, Jews, Greeks, Armenians and Iranians claim as their national dish, baklava, a sweet whose variations over time reflect the region’s history. They fight over the sweet’s origins and even that of the word ‘baklava’ (or baklawa in Arabic). The battles over the origin of foods have forced countries to rewrite aspects of their histories and major companies to review the way they market products. Food also serves as a barometer of the influence of regional powers (James M. Dorsey, 2018).
In May 2008, a group of chefs in Jerusalem sponsored by the Israelis food company Tzabar prepared an 882 pound dish of hummus, which Guinness world records recognized as the largest in the world. Israel held the record agitated a group of Lebanese chefs. The war began in 2009 over a 4,532-pound plate of hummus when Fadi Abboud — the minister of tourism in Lebanon try to send a message to the world that the haute cuisine belongs to them and not Israel.
In January 2010, Israel re¬took the title for the world’s largest hummus dish, weighing 4 tons and served in a satellite dish with the help of Jawdat Ibrahim, an Arab-Israeli entrepreneur, owner of the popular Abu Gosh restaurant near Jerusalem who believes, hummus is for everybody not lebanese. Within hours, the Lebanese planned a counterattack and within months, they presented the world with a vat filled with 23,042 pounds of hummus.
The largest serving of hummus was 10,452 kg (23,042 lbs 12 oz) and was achieved by Chef Ramzi Choueiri and the students of Al-Kafaat University (all Lebanon) in Beirut, Lebanon, on 8 May 2010. The hummus was made by around 300 student chefs under direction of Chef Ramzi, and served on the new largest ceramic plate, which measured 7.17 m in diameter and was created by local architect, Joe Kabalan (Guiness World Record).
Although sometimes criticized as Jewish appropriation of Palestinian and Arab culture, hummus has been adopted as an unofficial “national dish” of Israel, reflecting its huge popularity and significance among the entire Israeli population. One author calls hummus, “One of the most popular and best-known of all Syrian dishes” and a “must on any mezzeh table.” Syrians in Canada’s Arab diaspora prepare and consume hummus along with other dishes like falafel, kibbeh and tabbouleh, even among the third and fourth generation offspring of the original immigrants.
For Israelis, hummus is a symbol of common ground since the nation is just 71 years old and its citizens came all over the world. Palestinians also made hummus a symbol,” Vered notes — a symbol “that we didn’t only take their land, we took their food as well and made it ours” (The Kitchen Sisters, 2016). Albeit, the Hummus Wars continue, but in this war nobody gets hurt.
This is a guest post.